In recent days, Tommy Osh was excited to try to launch a new rock scene in a club about to open in Squirrel Hill next Friday.
The bassist had a lot of scene history to draw from, having been one of the fixtures in the Pittsburgh punk/glam scene of the ’80s and ’90s at the Decade and Electric Banana.
He was hoping to bring back that vibe to 2014 at the new Squirrel Hill Sports Bar, and had been reaching out to old friends and media throughout the week. In the wee hours of Thursday morning, the 47-year-old Osh, whose real name was Thomas Oshanick, was killed in a two-car crash near the Hot Metal Bridge on the South Side.
“More often than not, Tommy Osh was the loudest most ludicrous guy in the room,” said Ed Masley, musician and former P-G rock critic. “And this is in rooms full of really loud, totally ludicrous people. But he had this inner core of sweetness and he wasn’t shy about letting that show either. If you came up through the Oakland scene when I did, Osh was a huge, undeniably lovable part of your extended dysfunctional family.
Osh grew up in South Oakland and graduated from Central Catholic in the early ’80s with his sights set on the rock scene.
“I remember walking to Central past the Decade and going to see who’s on that board outside,” he told the PG in 2000.
He and his best friends — including Angelo Amantea and Dave Sestilli — knew the doorman at Decade and would sneak in to see bands like the Iron City Houserockers and Norm Nardini and the Tigers.
“Norman coming out with whipped cream on his face and a dress on, that’s where it started for us. The debauchery of it,” Osh said.
“He was a rock ’n’ roll kid,” said Nardini. “He was really as a kid who grew upon rock ’n’ roll. They were like the original punkers: Bobby Lamonde, Rocky Lamonde, Angelo, Dave Sestili. The rock ’n’ roll side of punk. Good kids. Tommy’s look was imposing, but as soon as you talked to him, he gave you respect. Just a cool guy. Nothing negative about Tommy.”
Sparked by Nardini’s antics, what came next for Osh and his crew was a whole slew of thrashy bands that maintained the original spirit of rock ’n’ roll, and amped it up quite a bit.
Osh, Amantea and Sestilli formed their first band, Outta Hand, in the early ‘80s. It evolved into The Addicts right as Osh was busy with the New York Dolls-inspired Trash Vegas with another friend from Central, Bobby LaMonde. The band released its debut album on the local garage-rock label, Get Hip.
Forced to choose between the two bands, Osh stayed with The Addicts, which featured Amantea, Sestilli and Ashtabula transplant Ray Chmielewski. The Addicts became the Social Wrecks in 1995 before disbanding and then re-emerging a year later as The Ultimatics with Osh, Amantea, Terry Thomas and Chmielewski.
Taking their name from a toilet paper dispenser — Osh’s idea — they debuted in 1997 with a 7-inch EP on the German label Dim and followed that with a full-length album on Beach/Wurmhole, a San Francisco indie label whose roster included the Suicide Machines.
The release coincided with the death of Chmielewski in Amsterdam.
“Everything was a blur. And it had no bearing, I guess. The CD coming in probably didn’t mean a thing to me compared to losing a best friend,” Osh said a few years after.
The band forged on and won the Graffiti Rock Challenge in 2000 before splitting two years later.
“The Ultimatics were a big deal for me when I started playing in a local band,” said Pamela Simmons, frontwoman for Motorpsychos. “Tommy was always fun, sweet, and genuine with me.”
Osh’s most recent project was playing bass in Tom Kurlander & PaleBlueSound, more of a’70s style California folk-rock band led by a Pittsburgh native (brother of screenwriter Carl Kurlander) who had been living in LA. They debuted two years ago with “Sugar Burn Sessions,” an album recorded at Mr. Small’s, and were planning to pay the Sports Bar’s opening night on Friday.
In the meantime, Osh, who is survived by daughter Phoenix and a granddaughter, worked a variety of day jobs (including recently being a delivery driver for an Asian restaurant in Squirrel Hill). On the side, he was pursuing projects in graphic design and having booked the Decade’s Alternative Mondays, he was looking forward to do the booking at this new club owned by Barry White.
Vinni Belfiore, a longtime friend and member of SouthSide Allstars, was working with Osh recently on setting up a steady Thursday night jam session at the club.
“Tommy Osh was the embodiment of rock n’ roll,” Belfiore said. “He lived it. His outlook was always positive and he was so excited about this new club gig. He had booked my band and asked me to meet with the owners about setting up a jam night for me to host. He loved the idea of bringing musicians together. He was an incredibly good soul and our music community has lost a tremendous asset in Tommy. I am devastated.”
“He was my friend from childhood,” said musician Anthony (Rocky) Lamonde. “We all grew up in south Oakland. Played in bands together and have been brothers for life. I’m devastated about this. And I miss him already. I feel crushed. He was an awesome human being.”
“It’s hard to imagine that whole intersection of the Decade and Banana scenes that happened in the ’90s without Tommy cracking everybody up at 2 or 3 or 4 a.m.,” Masley said. “He brought a lot of heart and soul to that whole scene. And he could really play that bass.”